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January 30, 2010

Global Justice Issues as Daily Bread; North American Region Deliberates LWF Eleventh Assembly Focus

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) North America Pre-Assembly Consultation (NAPAC) kicked off on January 29 in Kitchener, Ontario, with speakers calling Lutherans to mutual responsibility and accountability for indigenous people's rights, climate, food and economic justice, as well as to a critical and honest discernment of LWF’s mission to the world.

What justice does God require of us now as North American Christians in this place and time? was the question Jennifer Henry from the Canadian ecumenical justice network KAIROS asked the 50 participants attending the January 29-31 NAPAC at St Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kitchener. The pre-assembly gathering, hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), will prepare delegates for the LWF Eleventh Assembly to be held in Stuttgart, Germany, July 20-27 this year.

During the first day of the NAPAC , Henry, taking into account the Assembly theme Give Us Today Our Daily Bread suggested three issues - Indigenous rights, corporate accountability and climate justice - which are consistent with ecumenical discernment on global justice in the country.

Looking at the situation of indigenous people in North America, Henry pointed out that suicide is now among the leading causes of death among First Nations youth in Canada between the ages of ten and 24, and was five to six times the rate of non-Aboriginal youth. Applying a holistic mission, we know that access to services is only part of the solution. In the ecumenical community, we have focused on addressing land rights and self determination so that Aboriginal communities can protect and meaningfully benefit from their land and resources, she said.


An Act of Hope

In a great act of hope, Aboriginal people in Canada linked with other indigenous people around the globe and won the UN's adoption in 2007, of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, she continued. Both the Canadian and United States' governments had voted against this declaration, which recognizes the distinct identities and cultures and rights to lands and natural resources that are critical to indigenous way of life. It also addresses their needs for protection against genocide and discrimination.

As citizens of countries isolated in still standing against the UN declaration, it also seems important to name the implementation of this declaration as a crucial step forward in renewed relationship and restored global community, stressed Henry.

On corporate accountability, the KAIROS representative pointed out that almost 60 percent of the world's exploration and mining companies are listed in Canada, and have interests in almost 100 countries. It is increasingly the case that in the developing world, the face of Canada, is not peacekeepers or aid, but extractive industry, she observed.

What is our responsibility to ensure that our companies do no harm? Henry asked. She underlined the need for binding legislation that would hold Canadian companies accountable for action committed abroad. It seems important to North American integrity to ask in a global forum like the [LWF] Assembly, 'Can we do more to ensure that the co-operations we export with multinational corporation are regulated within a global economic system that works for all?'

Turning to climate change, Henry said the North American Assembly participants would need to listen to their sisters and brothers in the South, who tell us that solely market-based responses that do not disturb our economic system are inadequate, in fact might even be destructive. She mentioned vast amounts of land diverted for agro-fuels, referring to partners in the South who describe themselves as 'victims of the actual impact of climate change and victims of the solutions to climate change.'


Envisioning the LWF

My vision for the LWF is that it turn outward to the world to discern God's call to our shared life together. This will require high levels of trust, transparency in processes and decision-making, coherence between structure and program, and most profoundly a willingness to allow ourselves to be pressed uncomfortably for Jesus' sake, said Rev. Dr Rebecca Larson, executive director for Church in Society in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

In her presentation, Larson said she hoped discussions around the upcoming LWF Eleventh Assembly would focus on the question, To what is the world calling the LWF at this time? She said her dream was that the LWF gathering in Stuttgart would imagine together its calling in this world. She however expressed her fear that we will not be nearly imaginative, creative, daring, passionate and compassionate enough; that our preoccupations with structure or even differences between us, will impede our imagination for mission.


Respectful Communication Guidelines

Prof. Stacy Kitahata, who teaches intercultural studies at Trinity Lutheran College at Everett, USA, prepared North American delegates and participants at the Eleventh LWF Assembly by introducing Respectful Communication Guidelines. The seven principles are reflected in the acronym R-E-S-P-E-C-T and are an invitation to respectful and meaningful communication in an international and multicultural conference, she explained.

Kitahata encouraged participants to R: Take responsibility for what you recognize (use I statements); E: Empathetic listening; S: Be sensitive to differences in communication styles; P: Ponder what you feel and hear before you speak; E: Examine your own assumptions and perspectives / perceptions; C: Confidentiality. Share constructively to uphold the well-being of the community; T: Trust ambiguity because we are not here to debate who is right and wrong.

LWF Executive Committee member Rev. Dr Barbara Rossing led discussion on the biblical framework for the regional pre-assembly. Her Bible study focused on the Gospel of Luke, as the Jesus of Luke is a Jesus who loves to eat.

Rossing, who teaches New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, USA, highlighted three points about the Gospel of Luke in relation to the LWF Assembly theme: Meals open our eyes to recognize the kingdom of God. In Luke food is a justice issue teaching us an economy of abundance and sustainability for all. And, thirdly, food is boundary-crossing within the church. Jesus ate with Pharisees; he also ate with sinners and tax-collectors.

What are the ways our LWF Assembly can model boundary-crossing within our communion? she asked.

The NAPAC delegates are drawn from the three LWF member churches in the region - Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad, the ELCA and ELCIC - comprising around 4.9 million members.

Pre-assembly gatherings - five at regional and two at international level - precede the Assembly, the LWF's highest decision-making body, meeting normally every six years. The July 2003 Assembly was held in Winnipeg, Canada. (1,092 words)

Follow news and other deliberations from the pre-assembly on the LWF Assembly Web site at: http://www.lwf-assembly.org and from the NAPAC blog at: http://lwf2010napac.wordpress.com

Photo highlights are available on the ELCIC Facebook page: http://tinyurl.com/ydz222b

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The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF currently has 140 member churches in 79 countries all over the world, with a total membership of 68.9 million. The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical and interfaith relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.

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The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Canada's largest Lutheran denomination with 162,100 baptized members in 611 congregations. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

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